St. Jerome and the Lion
It recreated Jerome of the Vulgate
into a kindly St. Francis
going out to remove a thorn
from the lion’s inflamed paw.
He soothed the beast to lamb
much as the miracle’s telling
does for this irritable saint.
Perhaps all that translating
turned Jerome testy, but gossip’s
slippery slopes seem to have
confused his name with another:
St. Gerasimus, whose good works
flourished a ways up the Jordan River.
An artists’ imagination loves
a tussle with such incongruities.
So sweet-faced lions accumulate
on museum walls as do
the arrows piercing Sebastian's flesh.
Who cares if Jerome was a grump!
Good art sometimes comes
from time’s unintended lies.
Poet’s Notes: I am fascinated by memory and how stories get told. If you have ever tried to tell your mother about doings of you and your brother when young, and you are both telling the story, you quickly realize that each person has a completely different take on what really happened. And so with history.
Our universal memory comes out in our stories, legends, art, and all of this is fascinating. I love my Book of Saints, and there is so much iconography in the religious and mythic paintings throughout the world. When a bit of historical fact comes my way, it certainly sets me thinking!
Editor’s Note: There are a pleasant number of references to Christian legend/mythology folded into this one, including the different depictions of St. Jerome, as well as the interesting possible confusion with St. Gerasimus. I am reminded of some of the art in the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and enjoy the way this poem works at once as an ekphrastic piece with non-specific reference to any particular work of art and as a meta piece.